Heartworm - Furry Friends Friday

Dr. Brianne Bower
West Coast Animal Hospital

I'm Alex Steiniger. Most pet owners are aware of using flea and tick prevention but may not know the most serious and potentially life-threatening parasite to your dogs and cats is transmitted through mosquito bites. Dr. Bower from West Coast Animal Hospital is here to tell us more. Great to see you, Dr. Bower.

What is heartworm disease?

While it's important to protect our pets from all sorts of parasites, heartworms can have one of the most serious complications. Heartworm is transmitted when a mosquito bites and feeds on our dogs or cats, leading to a parasite growing in the right side of the heart and pulmonary arteries. Eventually, this causes lung disease and heart failure.

What are the signs of heartworm disease that pet parents should be looking out for?

Unfortunately, some dogs can remain infected for several years before we detect any sort of symptoms. That's why your veterinarian is always recommending annual heartworm screening tests. Eventually, as the disease progresses, some things you may see would be coughing, exercise intolerance, weight loss, or decreased appetite. This will all lead to heart failure, causing a buildup of fluid in the abdomen that is life-threatening.

Say a pet does get heartworm disease. What does the treatment look like for that?

Treatment is a pretty long process of at least 120 days. Your veterinarian will prescribe a mixture of antibiotics, steroids, and a medication called melarsomine to actually kill the heartworms. Unfortunately, melarsomine is not safe for use in cats, so that's another reason why prevention is so important in our pets.

Prevention sounds like the best option for all parties involved. How can we prevent it?

The best way to reduce risk is to keep your pets on a year-round preventive medication. These medications are safe, relatively easy to use, and inexpensive, and they treat other parasites too. According to the American Heartworm Society, there are about one to five cases of heartworm per clinic in California currently, and that's why keeping up with these medications is so important. For more information on heartworm and how to prevent it, I encourage you to reach out to your veterinarian today.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (619) 431-1423, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media https://www.facebook.com/westcoastpet/, https://www.instagram.com/westcoastpet/